I fully realize our spring turkey season is over, officially closed on the last day of May, and I know most have been done hunting for a long time now. In this world of “what’s new, what’s next?” no one wants to read about that old news. But, I have some thoughts rattling around in my head and I need to put them down in writing. You can read them too if you want. . . .
I spent a lot of time in the “woods” hunting turkeys this spring. Regardless of how many birds are around and how much they are gobbling, that means a guy has a lot of time to sit and think. I believe I did even more of that than usual this spring because there were a lot of things on my mind.
One of the thoughts that struck me is what a paradox spring turkey season is. One reason I enjoy hunting turkeys in the spring so much is because it is such a celebration of life! In my blog you have read about early morning sunrises, dewy greening grass, blooming flowers, singing birds, chasing rabbits, nesting owls, bull elk in velvet, spring thunderstorms, the smells, sounds, sights, and everything else that goes with the spring turkey hunting experience. All of those are a re-awakening of life that we look forward to every spring. Top it off with a big Tom turkey gobbling from a ridge top, strutting his stuff for hens–breeding season–that is LIFE being celebrated in grand fashion.
Yet at the same time I sat with my butt up against a tree or soapweed because I very much wanted to kill one of those big, beautiful Tom turkeys. Oh, do not get me wrong, I love the whole experience especially when it is shared with friends and family, but at the end of the season I intend to have canceled a tag, taken pictures, plucked a bird, and had him smoked. My mouth literally waters at the thought. My spring turkey season is not complete unless I look down the barrel at a big Tom, line his head up in the sights, and squeeze the trigger. I absolutely love the process and will tell you that is what it is all about, but I very much expect to harvest a turkey while I am at it.
My mind was filled with thoughts this spring knowing my father was nearing the end of his life. He passed at sunrise one Sunday morning late in this spring’s season. I suspect I did not hunt as effectively this spring because my head was not in the game. I do know as I hunted I spent a lot of time remembering times Dad and I spent in the spring turkey “woods” together. Although Dad had done some spring turkey hunting years before I started, I believe he and I killed our first turkeys on the same day years ago on pine-studded ridges overlooking the Niobrara River.
Dad had not hunted spring gobblers much in recent years, but we still shared stories of successes and failures and remembered hunts gone by. I recall several birds I called in for Dad after filling my tags. There is great satisfaction in helping someone else be successful in the outdoors, especially when you get to help those you are close to. I am sure Dad knew that, and I am glad I got to return that favor in some small way.
As I hunted this spring, and as I continue to hunt turkeys, I will be reminded of Dad every time I sit down and lay my shotgun in my lap. Dad always had 16 gauge shotguns. When I was old enough, Dad got a 16 gauge for me too. That made us weird, different from almost all other hunters. Every turkey I have ever killed has been taken with an old Belgium-made, Browning 16 gauge. Dad found that gun on the rack at Young’s Sporting Goods in downtown North Platte. He suggested we go in 50/50 and buy it. We did, as I recall we paid a total of $250. I am sure I got more than my share out of that gun; I have dropped a few pheasants with it, rolled some coyotes, and tricked it out with camouflage, sling, and sights as my full-time turkey gun. Using a 16 gauge for big Toms has not been a liability; a person just has to make sure to get ’em close and shoot ’em in the face. It has made me a better turkey hunter.
When I could sneak away to do some hunting this spring, I often did it with a heavy heart. I can remember one evening hunt when I was tired and discouraged. As I sat and occasionally called, hoping for a Tom to come find me, my thoughts were not filled with anger or questioning, but certainly melancholy as I remembered times Dad and I had spent together hunting and fishing, and wishing those times were not over. I was lost in my thoughts, sad thoughts, most of that evening, but suddenly I was jarred by something I heard–a shotgun blast, a single shotgun blast. My son was hunting just down the canyon and around the corner into another cedar canyon bottom several hundred yards away. A single report from a shotgun was a sign, a very good sign–bird down!
Again I was struck by the contradiction. I smiled. In a shotgun blast I was comforted knowing that I and my descendants, my Dad’s descendants, would be hunting turkeys and the descendants of those same turkeys Dad and I have hunted over all these years. We will carry on, we will remember, we will live and enjoy life. Yes, death is a part of life, but we will continue to enjoy life, to live it. No one understands that paradox, life and death, knows it and participates in it more than a hunter, and no one else can understand how we can celebrate both.
I will miss my Dad; it hurt to see him go. But, I know he is in a much better place, and he is there with family and friends that have gone on before us. One day we will be together again. Until then I will continue to roam the waters, “woods” and fields of Nebraska and everywhere I go I will remember times we spent together. That has already happened many times, the fields and waters are full of good memories that have brought a smile to my face. I will continue to smile as I am reminded of more. Even though death has separated us for now, I will continue to celebrate his life, and the life he has passed on to me, and on to my kids, even though he is gone–paradox.